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Restrictions on Freedom of the Internet / 1.10.2015-31.12.2016

06.04.2018

1 October-31 December 2015

On 3 October, approximately at noon, massive DDoS-attacks were launched against the web sites of the non-governmental news agency BelaPAN. As a result, the web sites naviny.by and belapan.by became unavailable to the users; since 5 October, they resumed their functioning but with interruptions. On 5 October, the BelaPAN news agency made a statement regarding the DDoS-attacks, where they were linked to the publication of a series of articles about the religious and political event “Prayer for Belarus” in the online newspaper Naviny.by. The article criticized the methods of organizing these events and quoted students who had come to the event with the participation of the head of state “under a quota”. On 5 October, the BAJ also released a statement regarding the attack on the web sites of BelaPAN considering it to be an “attempt to punish Belapan.com and Naviny.by for carrying out their professional duties” and a “gross interference in the work of independent media” during the election campaign. The journalistic association urged to stop any attacks on the independent mass media in order to ensure the constitutional right of citizens to receive information from different sources.

On 12 October, in the night after the elections, independent news sites nn.by, charter97.org, belaruspartisan.org, naviny.by, euroradio.fm were unavailable from 1.20 to 1.35. At 1.35 the access was restored.

 

2016

On 15 February, there was no access to the web site of the BelaPAN news agency because of a hacker attack. It was not the first hacker attack at web sites of the news agency during important public events. As BelaPAN pointed out, “It happened on the day of important events in the country’s life: a rally of individual entrepreneurs on the Kastrychnitskaja Square in Minsk and a EU Council meeting in Brussels where the question of lifting sanctions from most Belarusian officials was considered”.

On 2 March, the web sites nn.by (Nasha Niva) and ej.by (Ezhednevnik) received the written warnings of the Ministry of Information for violations of the Law on mass media. This information was posted on the ministry's web site under the title “The Law on mass media must be respected”. NN.by was warned for the publication entitled “Belarus at the red level of demographic security: a district centre dies every year”. In the ministry’s opinion, it discredits the efficiency of the government’s demographic policy. Ej.by was warned for "discrediting the armed forces of the Republic of Belarus” – the text about the combat readiness of the Belarusian army was accompanied by a photograph of German military equipment of the Second World War era.

On 6 June, Andrej Pavuk, an administrator of the group Rudabielsk Windows Dressing in the Odnoklassniki social network was fined for 2,100,000 BYR (about 92 Euro) under Article 9.2 of the Administrative Code of the Republic of Belarus (“Slander”). The decision was taken by Judge Uladzimir Vasilieuski from the Kastrychnitski district court in the Homiel region. The report was drawn up at the request of Siarhiej Zarychny, deputy director for ideology, culture and youth in the Kastrychnitski district executive committee. The complaint to the police was caused by a post by Andrej Pavuk, where he suspected the official of corruption. The administrator recognised that he had wanted to ask a question but it had come out as an assertion. He apologized to the complainant in court but the latter did not accept the apologies.

On 16 August, the web site of the Mahiliou branch of the human rights centre Viasna mspring.online was inaccessible because of the activities of unknown persons. According to journalist of the web site Aliaksandr Burakou Jr., someone attempted to block access of the system administrator to the web site. In fact, the web site was completely destroyed. It took six hours to restore the web site. The journalists of mspring.online linked the attempt to hinder the Mass-media in Belarus: 2016 21 work of the web site with the elections to the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus. In fact, the web site was the only independent online resource in Mahiliou that provided information about the election campaign on a regular basis.

On 26 September, the Centralny district court in Minsk decided to block the web site of the anarchist grouping Pramien, pramen.io, in the territory of Belarus because of the allegedly “extremist materials” published on this web site. “The true reason is that our web site represents an alternative to the official point of view on the events in Belarus and the world”, said a representative of the grouping. “Its blocking is a logical step of the state in destroying any media outside of its control”.

On 25 August, a judge of the Centralny district court in Minsk found “extremist” nine articles published on the web site 1863x.com in connection with the criminal case of Eduard Palchys, the detained editor of the web site. The trial was held in closed session. According to Palchys’ lawyer, Hanna Bakhtsina, the court considered only the conclusions of the expertise and not the materials from the web site. Eduard Palchys (pen-name Jhon Silver) is a founder of 1863x.com – a blog devoted to the analysis of current political events in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine as well as the Belarusian history and culture. In 2015, he was charged with inciting hatred on grounds of race, nationality, religion, language or other social identity (Article 130, Part 1 of the Criminal Code) as well as with distribution of pornographic materials (Article 343 of the Criminal Code). In October 2015, he left Belarus to avoid the prosecution and was put on the international wanted list; he was then detained in the Russian Federation when crossing the border between Ukraine and Russia on 23 January 2016. Eduard Palchys was transferred from the detention facility in Bryansk to the pretrial detention centre in Minsk in late May. He remained in custody awaiting the trial. Belarusian human rights organisations have recognized Eduard Palchys a political prisoner and the case against him – a politically motivated one. On 28 October, the city court in Minsk sentenced blogger Eduard Palchys to one year and nine months of custodial restraint without sending him to prison. The blogger was found guilty of inciting hatred on the grounds of race, nationality, religion, language or other social identity (Article 130, Part 1 of the Criminal Code) as well as with distributing pornographic materials (Article 343 of the Criminal Code). Eduard Palchys was released from custody in the courtroom. Taking into account the time Palchys spent in custody and in a special medical facility during the forensic examination, the remainder of the sentence amounted to two months.

On 26 September, the Centralny district court in Minsk decided to block the web site of the anarchist grouping Pramien, pramen.io, because of the allegedly “extremist materials” published on this web site. “The true reason is that our web site represents an alternative to the official point of view on the events in Belarus and the world”, said a representative of the grouping. “Its blocking is a logical step of the state in destroying any media outside of its control”.

On 6 December, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus arrested bloggers Yuri Pavlovets (in Minsk) and Dmitry Alimkin (in Brest) and opened criminal proceedings against them for inciting hatred (Article 130 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus) based on their publications on the Russian web sites Regnum, Lenta.ru, and EADaily. On 9 December, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus reported the arrest of Sergey Shiptenko, a staffer of the Russian web site Regnum in the framework of the criminal investigation under Article 130 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus. The proceedings were opened on suspicion of “committing deliberate acts aimed at inciting national and other social enmity among different groups of population of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus as well as enmity on the grounds of national, linguistic and other social identity, expressed in the preparation and online publication of articles under the pen name Artur Grigoriev”. The suspects’ houses were searched and their equipment was seized. Initially, it was reported that the criminal proceedings were opened under Article 130, Part 3of the Criminal Code (committing a crime by a group of persons), which provides for a punishment of imprisonment for five to twelve years. Subsequently, the charge was changed to Part 1 of this article, which allows for alternative forms of punishment (fine, arrest, restriction of liberty for up to ten years or imprisonment for the same period). The basis for opening the criminal proceedings was established by the letters of the Ministry of Information to the Investigative Committee about the presence of signs of extremism in publications of these authors. The Ministry of Information referred to a conclusion of the Republican expert commission under the Ministry for the evaluation of information products for the purpose of identifying presence or absence of signs of extremism in them. The opinions of Belarusian public about the detention of authors of Regnum have remained divided. Many have seen these actions as directed at the defence of national sovereignty but others have seen them as a threat to freedom of expression. The editorial board of Regnum described the actions of Belarusian law-enforcement bodies as “provocative and treacherous against Belarus and Russia”. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release the detainees. “The posts of these three bloggers are controversial but that does not justify their imprisonment,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “According to international standards, their provisional detention is neither necessary nor proportionate”.

On 26 December, the Ministry of Information of the Republic of Belarus issued a written warning to the independent information online portal Vitsiebski Kurjer (vkurier.by) “for spreading false information that could harm the public interest”. The official communication published on the web site of the Ministry of Information failed to specify the kind of information in question.

On 31 December, it became known from the reply of a deputy minister of information to the BAJ’s inquiry that from January to November 2016 the Ministry of Information issued fifteen warnings: seven to mass media and eight to online information resources. In total, during 2016, the Ministry of Information issued sixteen warnings (eight to mass media and eight to online information resources). Besides, in 2016, the Ministry of Information decided to restrict access to forty-seven information resources and restored access to one resource. Twenty-one out of them were blocked for disseminating information aimed at selling narcotic drugs, thirteen – for disseminating extremist materials, eleven – for improper advertising, and two – for the promotion of pornography, violence and cruelty.